SAN JOSE – It had been nearly two months since Sharks forward Brent Burns last scored a goal.
Yes, that is a little misleading considering the NHL shut down for three weeks for the Olympics. But, Burns reminded another sellout crowd at SAP Center of just how important he is to the Sharks’ offensive attack, ending his goal-scoring drought at 19 games and playing a key role in an inspiring third period for the Sharks in which they couldn’t quite find the go-ahead goal in a 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina.
While the result of the game wasn’t what the Sharks were aiming for, the positives arguably outweighed the negatives in this one.
As is often the case, the Sharks struggled early to find their legs after returning home from a road trip on the other side of the country. They got progressively better as the clock wound down, although they oddly led 2-1 after the first period and couldn’t get another puck past Anton Khudobin in the final 44-plus minutes of play. Sometimes, as they say, that’s hockey.
Burns gave San Jose a lead at 19:32 of the first, setting up shop between the circles and blasting in a fluffy pass from Raffi Torres after James Sheppard created a turnover behind the Carolina net.
“Great work by Shep, and good play by [Torres],” Burns said.
McLellan described Burns’ goal as “very encouraging. He was in the right spot. He shot the puck. I thought he did some other things well within the game. Maybe the monkey is off of his back now, and he can get back to relaxing and playing the way he needs to.”
The goal seemingly earned Burns a place back up on the top line with Thornton and Pavelski, and they led the way as San Jose outshot Carolina 16-7 in the final 20 minutes of regulation. Burns nearly had a second goal with 12 minutes left, driving aggressively to the net and through the crease, but he couldn’t find a handle on the puck to get it past Khudobin while being harassed by a Carolina pursuer.
Burns wasn’t the only bright spot. Alex Stalock had another strong game with 32 saves, and he couldn’t be faulted for any of the three Carolina goals. That includes the overtime winner, when a shot from the point by Andrej Sekera deflected to the stick of Elias Lindholm, who then made a perfect backhanded dish to Jay Harrison for an easy tap in.
“I followed it the whole way,” Stalock said. “They got the bounce and their guy was there at the right time. … It ended up right on his tape, and I don’t know what you do.”
McLellan said: “Al was fine. He made save after save in the first half of the game where it could have got away on us.”
Sheppard also continued to play well, and is making the most of his opportunity as third line center while Pavelski stays up top. Sheppard has five points in his last five games (1g, 4a).
“He’s at a bit of a crossroads in his career, and I think he’s figured it out,” McLellan said of the 25-year-old. “He’s done some things away from the rink to improve his foot speed, and is becoming a very effective player for us. The desperation in his game is a lot more evident now than it was earlier, and if he continues to play like that, we have ourselves a very good player.”
Sheppard said: “I want to be the best player I can. If I can play on the third line center, that’s an honor for me. Just trying to build, trying to keep playing well and trying to establish myself.”
The Sharks will have to play a much more complete game as Pittsburgh visits on Thursday. The Penguins gave the Sharks a 5-1 whipping at Consol Energy Center in December in the only other meeting between the two clubs.
Sheppard said: “We’ll take what we can from this game, but we know we have better for next game.”
The indications are there that they will be.